Former Santa Ana City Councilman Carlos Bustamante pleaded guilty Friday to a series of felony and misdemeanor charges for sexual misconduct involving women with whom he worked at the county Public Works Department.
Under a plea agreement, Bustamante is expected to be sentenced to a year in jail and five years probation, and he will have to register for life as a sex offender.
Sentencing was scheduled for Jan. 22. Bustamante can apply to the county probation department to serve his time behind bars in a city jail instead of the county jail, but he must do at least half the time.
Bustamante pleaded guilty to felony counts of attempted sexual battery and stalking, and misdemeanor counts of attempted sexual battery, simple assault, grand theft and two counts of false imprisonment. Bustamante will get a chance to ask a judge to reduce the felonies to misdemeanors if he clears probation, and he may also seek to have all of the convictions expunged.
In January, Orange County Superior Court Judge John Conley dismissed five felony counts of false imprisonment and three felony counts of assault with intent to commit a sex offense.
Bustamante, who was arrested in July 2012 while on his way to a Santa Ana City Council meeting, was ultimately charged with sexually assaulting six women with whom he worked between 2003 and 2012 while he worked as an Orange County Public Works executive. He was convicted of victimizing five women.
Prosecutors said he also stole up to $4,029 in county funds by misleading co-workers into thinking he could use tuition reimbursement funds and expenses for meals to cover part of the costs of Harvard University’s Kennedy School training program. Today, he admitted stealing $3,150.
If Bustamante violates any terms of his probation he has four years and two months in prison “hanging over (his) head,” Conley said.
Bustamante declined to make any comment today, preferring that his attorney, Brent Romney, speak for him. Bustamante is expected to make a statement at his sentencing, Romney said.
Romney said the plea was a “practical” decision made by his client after he weighed the risks of going to trial and losing. He said Bustamante’s defense at trial would have been that the women had consensual encounters with him, and the attorney would have quizzed them on why they did not promptly report the incidents to their bosses or to authorities.
Bustamante felt the encounters were consensual, but he recognizes the women did not feel the same way and trying to win that argument in court would have been “difficult,” Romney said, adding that his client wished to spare the women the “embarrassment” of having to testify again as they did at the preliminary hearing.
Deputy District Attorney Aleta Bryant read statements into the record from two victims.
One of the women said when she was hired in April 2010 she was “extremely excited” about the new job.
“I thought it would be a great beginning for me and a better life for my family,” she said. “Never did I imagine that I would be treated the way you treated me. Everything you did to me affected my job and my home life. There were many evenings that I was upset and scared and not able to focus on my family. There were many nights I couldn’t sleep thinking about work the next day. I felt completely alone and helpless and I prayed to God that you would not come near me.”
She said his unwanted sexual advances made her feel “trapped, suffocated, scared and disgusted.”
She said she didn’t feel like she could tell anyone.
“You knew I needed my job and you knew I was helpless, yet you continued,” she said. “As a mother of a young daughter I hope she never, ever encounters someone as sick as you.”
Another woman said she was demoted when she complained about Bustamante.
“Soon after I got promoted, I met my harasser,” she said.
She went to great lengths to avoid Bustamante in the office, she said.
“I feared for my safety and for the safety of my career,” she said. “When I finally said something, my fear became my reality. His unwelcome behavior negatively impacted my life and damaged my career at the county.”
At one point in her career at the county, she was offered another promotion that would have been a “dream come true,” she said.
Bustamante “lured me into his office with the pretense to congratulate me and sexually assaulted me,” prompting her to decline the opportunity, she said.
“My safety was more important,” she said.
When she finally piped up to her supervisors, she was punished, she said.
“This demotion caused a significant financial impact in my life,” she said. “It restricted my potential earnings and cost me tens of thousands of dollars in lost income.”
She said the assault has also deterred her from socializing with coworkers and networking. Counseling has helped but she remains plagued by “flashbacks,” she said.
“This is something I will have to struggle with for the rest of my life.”
The Bustamante scandal led to former county CEO Tom Mauk getting pushed out of his job in May 2013. It also prompted officials to reform the way sexual harassment claims are reported and investigated.
— City News Service